iPod Hearing Loss Danger

The longer and louder you listen, the more you risk damaging your hearing. Learn safe limits and avoid iPod hearing loss.

It probably comes as no surprise to learn that if you introduce high-volume music directly into your ears for long periods of time, you are likely to damage your hearing. With the introduction of the hugely popular Apple iPod and other portable MP3 players, millions of users are doing just that.

But how loud is too loud? And how long is too long? Thanks to results of a study presented in 2006,* we now have some concrete numeric answers to those questions.

Since the risk of hearing damage is a function of both the volume and the length of time, you have some flexibility in how you control the risk to your hearing. Your ears can handle loud sounds for short periods of time, so for one or two quick tunes, you can afford to turn up the volume. But if you use your MP3 player for hours on end, you'll want to keep the volume lower.

According to the study, if the volume is turned as high as it will go (100%), the safe listening time is only five minutes per day using standard earbuds. At 50% volume, on the other hand, most people can safely listen all day. Here's the chart of maximum listening time per day using stock earphones:

Volume LevelMaximum Listening Time per Day
50% or belowNo limit
60%18 hours
70%4.6 hours
80%1.2 hours
90%18 minutes
100%5 minutes

If you use headphones instead of earbuds, adjust the above volume levels by adding 10%. For example, you can listen for 1.2 hours at 90% volume instead of 80% volume. (It won't sound any louder to you; the loudness at your ear will be the same.)

Results were quite consistent across several brands and models of MP3 player.

The irony is that many people use iPods and similar devices to block out OTHER noise, and in doing so, they are exposing their ears to more dangerous levels of sound. Many MP3 players have peak output levels of 100–125 dBA, which is well into the hazardous volume range.

So ... suppose you dutifully turn down your MP3 player, and you find that too much background noise leaks through from your surroundings? If you are using earbuds, you can switch to headphones, which keep out more of the background noise. Or you can switch to headphones or earphones with noise cancellation or noise isolation technology, which will exclude external noise even more. When you're in a noisy environment, you'll find that your natural comfortable listening level is quite a bit lower with these listening devices than with standard MP3 earphones.

You don't need to give up your iPod to avoid iPod hearing loss. Now you have the information you need to use it safely, without worry (or guilt!).

* Cory D F Portnuff and Brian J Fligor, "Output Levels of Portable Digital Music Players" (presented at the national conference "Noise-Induced Hearing Loss in Children at Work & Play," Covington, Kentucky, October 19–20, 2006).

Read more: Four ways to listen safely — you choose!

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